He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
— John 13:4-5
Several years ago, I conducted a foot washing at a retreat for a group of gay men. The staging was simple: a white antique pitcher and basin placed on the floor next to a small wooden bench. I instructed those who wanted to participate to sit on the bench and say the words: “My feet are dirty, who will come and wash them?”
I was the first to say them. Kevin, a nurse, rose and said as he bathed my bare feet, “I have come to wash your feet.”
John, who has a white beard and looks like Santa Claus sat on the bench next, “I am afraid to do this. What if no one comes and washes my feet?” He paused then said, “My feet are dirty, who will come and wash them?” Sandy, a hairdresser and drag queen, rose and knelt before John, “I have come to wash your feet.” Several others sat on the bench and said the words and, every time, someone rose to wash their feet. I was ready to conclude the sacrament when Peter rose and sat on the bench. He was shaking badly. Tears were streaming down his face. He choked out the words, “My feet are dirty, who will come and wash my feet?” Of all the people in the group I knew Peter the least. Every time he spoke, it seemed to be in riddles or a foreign language using English words but the meanings had been switched. Then one night at the dinner table he shared that he had been sexually abused as a young child, by his father. And that recently he had been able to forgive his father and to embrace him. As he sat there on that small bench awaiting someone to come and wash his feet, I somehow wanted his father to magically appear in the room and kneel before his son. Instead, Grant, a quiet and gentle soul who worked with plants for a living, rose and knelt before Peter, “I have come to wash your feet.” And tenderly, like a father would wash the feet of a child who had been playing in the mud, he washed Peter’s feet.
A Lenten Prayer
O barefoot traveler, on your way home: Our paths have crossed and I am uncertain as to why and uncertain as to if they will ever cross again. We are on this magnificent journey home in our bare feet. You have traversed the meadows and deserts. You have navigated the muddy ravines. Home shines in the distance and you glance downward at your muddy feet. Raise your eyes if only slightly, O barefoot traveler. There is one kneeling before you with towel and basin, “Welcome home! I have come to wash your feet.